In an interview with Skyports’ new Korea Country Manager, Mitchell Williams, we take a closer look at the adoption of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and Drone Services in Korea, how we anticipate it will take shape, and the impact it will have in one of the world’s innovation powerhouses.
Q: You’ve lived in Korea for over 20 years. What makes it an ideal location for AAM implementation and Drone Services?
Hearing “K-”anything, many people’s minds would instantly flick to Korea. The formidable K-Wave has steadily grown in presence – from lifestyle and culture, to innovation and technology – Korea is a country that leads the pack in many aspects. It is characterised by cutting-edge technology, open innovation, and an appetite for bold developments that often create new global norms.
K-AAM will be no exception.
I believe that innovation is in a class of its own in Korea. Take my household television for instance. If you told me twenty years ago that my flat screen TV would eventually be replaced with a flexible 4K screen that you can literally stick on your wall and peel off like a sticker, I would never have thought it possible. Thanks to Korean innovation, it now is.
That’s the crux of true innovation; it makes the impossible possible.
The same will be the case for the development and deployment of AAM and Drone Services in the country. We aren’t just working towards one passenger or cargo route that connects point A to point B. It’s about a network that connects people and goods within and beyond cities.
So yes, Korea leads global technological standards – and it moves fast.
Q: How does Skyports’ work align with your interests and values? What excites you most about the industry?
Initially, it was the novel nature of eVTOL aircraft design, which took me back to the sci-fi movies I watched as a kid, that attracted me to the industry However, I quickly saw the potential of AAM, which felt like it was developing right before my eyes.
As one of the AAM’s pioneers, Skyports champions the industry mission of creating a new way to stay connected while enhancing safety and sustainability. Our work is rooted in creating tangible value and impact led by best-in-class experts. Above all, our work prioritises safety and is uncompromising on this. We also build diverse best-in-class partnerships and are focused on understanding the needs of our customers. With this approach, Skyports plays a leading role in fostering the ecosystem necessary for AAM to take flight.
Q: What has the company’s progress been like in Korea then?
Korea is undeniably an industry frontrunner, amongst others like Japan, Singapore, the US, , Germany and more recently, Dubai. I put this strong position down to three factors: a vibrant industry ecosystem, a highly supportive government, and a public that readily embraces new technologies.
The drone technology sector in Korea is booming, with companies of all sizes developing cutting-edge solutions which utilise drones across a range of industries. This is why we formed Skyports Drone Services Korea, via a joint venture agreement with local drone technology firm, Marine Drone Tech, in February this year.
So far, we’ve commenced ship-to-shore deliveries in the ports of Busan and Yeosu and have been awarded a project by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT) and the Korea Transport Institute for the Yeosu city inter-island transfer projects. This project will explore deliveries between the mainland and outlying islands – of which Korea has over 3,400. The success of this project will pave the way for establishing air corridors for future flights with larger aircraft, define the requirements for a cargo vertiport network to streamline the delivery process, and thus, lay the groundwork for the development of AAM services.
Of course, there would be no industry without AAM infrastructure at its foundations. Vertiport infrastructure is a core enabler of the AAM ecosystem and Skyports is the sector leader with a pipeline of projects ready for execution. Critically, our work in other key markets allows us to better understand, tailor and design sites that will work for Korea.
While the implementation of AAM is further away than Drone Services – which is already in action today – there is significant activity in this area with progress gathering pace rapidly.
Skyports Infrastructure has formed strategic partnerships with leading companies at the forefront of the industry. The latest being the recent collaboration agreement signed with Lotte Digital Communications and Lotte E&C.
Q: Looking specifically at Drone Services, what do you foresee as the greatest impact it will have on Korea?
Through our ongoing work in drone deliveries, we see firsthand that a shift is already in progress. Korea’s mobility transformation is already taking shape in more traditional and highly industrialised cities like Yeosu, and our biggest port, Busan. In the long term, our work will elevate the way businesses and organisations conduct inspection works, security and surveillance, and continue to expand our reach in middle mile deliveries.
The team in Korea conduct daily deliveries to vessels at anchor, bringing the crew items such as essential spare parts and supplies, and even everyday comforts in the form of of deliveries of pizzas or fried chicken. To me, the delivery of humble late-night snacks showcases how we are elevating connectivity and bringing everyone closer together through the safe and effective deployment of drones.
Now this, of course, is just the beginning, and at a far smaller scale than what we envision in the longer term. For true impact, operations must scale, which means that landside logistics, technology capabilities and fleet size and diversity will need to follow.
Q: Let’s talk AAM next, why should Korea be excited about it?
The average commute for workers in Seoul is 114.5 minutes, a result of a centralized business district and the increasing cost of real estate pushing people to the suburbs. Both sides of the Han River are frequently gridlocked with people making their way across the various bridges to the opposite side.
The city is a prime candidate for AAM services, as AAM will reduce traffic congestion and connect people and services faster and more efficiently. On a greater scale, providing remote communities the same access to those services in a seamless travel experience is a worthy endeavour for the country.
Underlying all AAM activities, is the goal of creating a more sustainable transport system that serves not only the movement of goods and people, but also the state of the planet. With AAM complementing traditional modes of transport as a sustainable alternative, Korea’s climate performance rating can only improve, and that is good for Koreans and the world.
We are here for the long haul and the runway to deployment is closer than many think. As Skyports’ Korea Country Manager, I look forward to playing an integral part in maturing the industry in Korea and seeing it take off in the next two to three years.
If you are interested in becoming a partner or finding out more about our business in Korea, please contact Mitchell at [email protected].
About Mitchell Williams
Mitchell Williams is the Korea Country Manager for global Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) infrastructure developer and operator, and drone services provider, Skyports.
Appointed to establish Skyports’ Korea office in 2023, he oversees both the company’s infrastructure and drone services operations. In his capacity as Korea Country Manager, Mitchell leads in facilitating an extensive list of priorities including local stakeholder engagement, real estate agreements, regulatory discussions, operational procedures and enabling technology.